MENTAL HEALTH

Alpha-Theta Neurofeedback Training for the treatment of PTSD

After the trauma, patients are in a state of permanent excitement. Alpha-Theta neurofeedback training aims to reduce its activation. Find out more here.

Alpha-Theta Neurofeedback Training for the treatment of PTSD

Last update: May 25, 2023

Alpha-Theta neurofeedback training is an intervention with the potential to help a multitude of patients. Indeed, it is successfully used for the treatment of various clinical disorders, such as depression and ADHD. However, today we will focus on its benefits in dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

According to the American Psychiatric Association, PTSD characterizes an individual who develops severe symptoms after directly or indirectly witnessing a life-threatening event. For example, a terrorist attack or a heart attack. Symptoms include reliving the event and also hyperarousal (APA, 2015).

Neurofeedback trains the brain to produce a calm state.

-Sima Noohi-

After the trauma, the body becomes hypersensitized

For victims of psychological trauma, their bodies cease to belong to them. Even when faced with harmless stimuli, such as an elevator, mirror, plant, or sound, they experience extraordinarily high arousal. This happens because a specific message is associated with the aforementioned stimuli, that of danger.

Explain it well with a clinical case. Eleanor is a patient who started therapy two months ago because every night she had nightmares about her mother, who suffers from alcoholism. Eleanor works in the hospitality industry and says every time she opens a bottle of wine and pours it for a customer, she starts to get scared.

Though Eleanor has lived away from her mother for years, the sound of pouring wine causes her to panic. As a result, she runs away. For this reason, her referring physician discharged her and advised her to see a mental health professional. This is an example of how a sound (the glub glub glub of wine pouring out of the bottle) causes an emotional cascade of panic and anguish. In this case it evokes the years in which Eleonora’s mother mistreated her.

Healing comes from restoring the ability to feel the fullness and vitality of life.

-Bessel van der Kolk-

Therapist and patient in alpha-theta training
The technique has shown efficacy in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Alpha-Theta neurofeedback training: a way to reset the brain

Trauma produces changes in the brain. For example, the pituitary-adrenal axis tends to lose its ability to balance (Carrobles et al., 2014). This increases basal levels of cortisol (the stress molecule) which, in turn, damages important brain structures such as the hippocampus.

The right hemisphere of the brain houses the neurological centers associated with the emotional universe. After the traumatic event, many victims experience excessive activation in these areas of their brain. It happens when they perceive stimuli related to the events they have witnessed, as in the case of Eleanor.

As a result, the traumatized experiences heightened arousal. Autonomic nervous system-dependent responses (such as breathing or heart rate) are heightened due to sounds, colors, and smells associated with the trauma. This gives sufferers the message that their lives are once again in danger and they must escape.

Trauma affects neuroelectrical functioning

There are various types of bioelectrical waves in the brain. In the context of PTSD, a decompensation of two, in particular, has been identified (van der Kolk, 2020):

Alpha waves are those that result from states of relaxation. When we feel safe, comfortable, and carefree, our brain starts producing these kinds of waves. An alteration in the presentation of these waves is far from unique to PTSD. In fact, they have been found at altered levels even in individuals with literacy difficulties (Sciotto et al., 2018).

Theta waves are related to deep introspective states. They occur when you are deeply focused or when you are experiencing fantasies or feeling creative. As in the previous case, the alteration of these waves also occurs in other clinical disorders. In this case, autism.

When theta waves predominate in the brain, the mind focuses on the inner world; While alpha waves can act as a bridge from the outside world to the inside and vice versa.

-Bessel van der Kolk-

Neurofeedback is performed using a device that records the waves prevailing in the individual. Then, thanks to the processing by computer equipment, the number of recorded waves is transformed and they become a stimulus, like sound or light.

The individual must learn to modulate the frequency and intensity with which these brain waves emerge through their own will, with the help of said stimuli.

Alpha theta brain wave training
The technique collaborates with the restoration of bioelectrical functioning of certain areas of the brain.

The Alpha-Theta neurofeedback training protocol

The intervention is applied when the individual is relaxed. The goal is to increase the percentage of theta waves they experience in two fields: the medial area and the frontal region. It is based on the percentage of alpha waves (Noohi et al., 2017).

This goal is based on the fact that, in PTSD, people have higher intensity and frequency of alpha waves than theta waves. Try to strike a balance between the two, through the procedure explained above.

Alpha-Theta neurofeedback training is a treatment backed by scientific evidence. Indeed, the American Psychiatric Association has listed it as one of the recommended interventions for PTSD, due to its potential benefits.

As mentioned above, this treatment contributes to the restoration of bioelectrical functioning of certain regions of the brain. As a result, it reduces the hyperarousal experienced by trauma sufferers.

Since at the moment of mastering theta waves, a person experiences relaxation, it is easier to rebuild the internal world in a more positive way.

-Sima Noohi-

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All sources cited have been thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography for this article has been deemed reliable and of scholarly or scientific accuracy.


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